ALUMNI-IN-ACTION ORAL HISTORY
KEN MURRAY, OAC ‘50
Interviewed by Murray Brown
October 27, 2000
M This is an interview with Ken Murray, who graduated from the Ontario Agricultural College in 1950, by Murray Brown, OAC ’51. Ken, where were you born and raised and what prompted you to enter the Ontario Agricultural College in 1946?
K Murray, I was born in Chatham, Ontario in 1924. My father was a United Church minister and because of that we moved around to a number of locations in rural Ontario. In the early 40’s, we were living in Keene, a small village outside of Peterborough, and it was at that time that I joined the Service, the Royal Canadian Navy, and upon discharge from the Navy, came to Kitchener to the Rehab School to complete my grade 13 so I could go on to University. Because of my involvement in things in rural Ontario, and because of an interest developed in the meat industry, it seemed logical that I would attend the OAC, now the University of Guelph, Murray.
M Ken, did you live in residence the whole four years you were at OAC and what were your first impressions when you arrived at the Ontario Agricultural College?
K Murray, the first two years at the OAC, I lived in Johnson Hall on the 3rd and 4th floors with 4 to a room; Phil Aird, Doug Morrow and ? Montgomery were my room-mates in first year. I’ve forgotten who they were in my second year. I was married between my second and third year, and lived at the bottom of College Hill. The first impressions of living in residence at a University were significantly different than living in accommodation provided by the Navy. I guess the other thing that impressed me early on was the fact that you could be involved in a whole bunch of extracurricular activities at the Ontario Agricultural College, and I’m one of these individuals who believed then, and am absolutely convinced now, that the extracurricular things in life are as important as the fun, as the exposure one had to an education while at University.
M Ken, no doubt you had several interesting Professors in your undergraduate days. Would you like to comment on any of the Professors in OAC in that period?
K Murray, I don’t think I told you, but my discipline at OAC was Animal Science. The head of that Department at that time was Prof. Knox. His wife came from a farm just outside the village of Keene, where I was a teenager, and so I developed a friendship with him. There were a number of people at OAC that had an impact on me, and I suspect the one who had the most influence was George Raithby. It maybe was not so when I was a student, but after graduation, I came back to talk
to George because of some things that were happening in my life relative to developing a career within Schneider’s in Kitchener, and we had a long conversation. I always remember George’s comments to me were: “the day you graduated, you knew a little bit about a lot of things. Today you know a lot more about the meat industry than you did when you graduated. My advice to you would be to stay with Schneider’s”. I took his advice.
The other individual that I want to talk about is Prof. Stilwell. He helped me to develop a keen interest in meat, and because of his lectures, my interest in meat resulted in my initial employment at Schneider’s, and I got along fairly well there.
The other individual that had an impact on me was Prof. Reaman in the English department and this relationship continued long after I graduated. He was an individual who had an interest in things in K-W land, and wrote the book, “The Trail of the Black Walnut”, but that’s not what is of interest to me. It is the fact that Prof. Reaman, and I don’t know who else he talked to about their accomplishments, but whenever there was anything in the paper about something that I was involved with, I always got a call from Reaman the following day. He seemed to continue to have an interest in his students long after they graduated.
M Ken, you mentioned your employment at J.M. Schneider Incorporated, and I expect you started there right after graduation. Would you comment on your career at J.M. Schneider?
K Thanks, Murray. Yes, you’re correct. When I graduated in 1950, I went to J.M. Schneider as a salesperson. I had been working there as a summer student all through studies at OAC; I guess I’m one of these individuals that people say, well, there’re not many of you around anymore; that is, just having one employer. I guess I look at it a little differently. Yes, I had one employer, but I had many experiences within the organization. I started as a salesman, became a livestock buyer, and then a supervisor and superintendent in the plant. When a plant superintendent, I was asked to join the Board of Directors of the company, then assumed the position as General Manager. In 1969 I was appointed President, and held that position for 17 years until I retired. Through that period of time, Schneiders grew from sales of about $70 million to $650 million, that is in 1970, the sales were $70 million, and reached $650 million in ’85. When I retired Schneiders had employees across this country in the order of 3,500.
While working at Schneiders, I was involved in my community, and I suspect, Murray, we can talk about that later on.
M Ken, you mentioned the influence your undergraduate professors had on your choice of career; I expect your extracurricular activities as a student also had some influence during your working days.
K Yes, Murray, they did. While at OAC I got myself involved in the organization relative to Conversat (the annual formal dance), and a whole number of things relative to student affairs, served on our class executive, became involved in College Royal, and these involvements were good training, which helped one put to use- not only in your place of business, but in the community in which you lived. I suppose I was able to use some of those skills in my involvement with the Kitchener Public School Board, that I served on for 7 years, became involved in a number of service clubs, like the Kitchener Young Men’s Club and the Rotary Club. I have always been, and still am, active in my church wherever I live, have been involved in a number of philanthropic organizations, the Kitchener-Waterloo Community Foundation, and with the K-W Symphony- all things which make one whole! I commented earlier, about, the impact that certain professors had on me while at OAC. The other thing, Murray, I would like to comment about, and that is that those of us who graduated from OAC in the 1950’s were fortunate, because we had a course content that for the first two years was general in nature, and then, we specialized. Those first two years made us whole students, and we made many friends, and I get the sense that there’s a movement back towards that kind of thing, and I think we should welcome that.
M Yes, Ken, we all formed friendships during our undergraduate days and some of them we still have to this day. Our class, for instance, have had a reunion every year since graduation and it’s nice to see those undergraduate classmates. Do you have any comments on the friends you formed as an undergraduate?
K Yes, Murray, as a matter of fact we just completed our 50th anniversary this year, and just yesterday, which would be October the 26th year 2000, 35 of us got together over lunch, which shows we maintained some kind of a liaison, one with the other. Our year has not been, up until this point, as a cohesive Class, but on the other hand, I have to tell you that our year just raised $100,000.00 for a Food Safety Scholarship which was presented to OAC Dean Rob McLaughlin when we celebrated, our 50th anniversary. My other involvements at the University of Guelph have caused me to continue to have friendships at the University, and these involvements are rather wide-ranging. I was fortunate enough to be asked to sit on a committee when Burt Matthews was President of the University to establish the President’s Council, and that has afforded me a number of friendships. I was around when the Chancellor’s Circle was established. I’ve had a number of joys- one was being named an Honorary Fellow of the University of Guelph; then being named Alumnus of Honour, I think that was 1987; was given an Honourary degree from Guelph in about 1995. Out of interest I also have an Honourary degree from the University of Waterloo. These things have added a dimension to my life, but since I have been retired, three things have added a significant dimension: (1) the University of Guelph established a Science in Society project, (a young Dr. Douglas Paul is heading that up) it was a desire of mine to establish this, so I underwrote the cost of that for the first two years; (2)and while that was going on, or just prior to that, I established at the University of Waterloo, the Murray Alzheimer Research in Education program, and that’s
been going on for four to five years now. Both of these projects have developed national and international reputations. So, I guess Murray, because of my involvement in and around Universities, those friendships have carried on, not from within my Class, but within activities because of my involvement at Universities.
M Ken, it might be the desire of some people to be referred to as Dr. and I knew you had two honorary degrees, but I haven’t referred to you as Dr. Murray because as Aggies, being such friendly sorts, we prefer to be called by our first name. And, since many of the Ontario Agricultural College graduates end up working for government, I wonder if you would comment on what influence the government had on the meat industry, at least during your career.
K Yes, Murray, a number of our graduates find their way into various levels of government, and being in the meat industry, and because of being involved with the Canadian Meat Council on the various committees and being President of that national body on two different occasions, I had to interact with people in Toronto, and in Ottawa. One invariably ran into graduates from the University of Guelph. Not that you got preferential treatment because of that, but at least there was some common ground that allowed you to open up the conversation, and you could develop an excellent rapport. I think that all graduates should have an interaction with many facets of life, and if it is with various government organizations, then, the fact that those people and you have a common interest, as I said earlier, that allows for a better relationship.
M Ken, these oral histories are being prepared as a result of a group graduates from the Ontario Agricultural College, called Alumni-in-Action. Some of the Alumni-in-Action committee members decided that this would be an excellent project, and we are doing it for the benefit of our recent graduates from the Ontario Agricultural College, and of course, the students, themselves. Do you have any comments for our younger generations?
K Murray, I guess what I would like to say to our younger graduates, who will listen to these tapes, and I trust they will, is that I retired actively from business 12 years ago, but since then have been involved in a number of projects. Murray talked about this Alumni-in-Action project. We retired individuals can contribute, and I would hope that what it is we put down in voice, will assist young graduates in their own career. In addition, they have to do the same thing as they grow in years, but I would encourage them to make room for those of us who are in our 60s, 70s and 80s, I don’t like to refer to myself as an older person, I just think I’m a little more seasoned. Murray, earlier on, we were chatting about the fact that OAC graduates are on a first-name-basis and wherever it is we go, we run into them. A number of years ago, and this is not name dropping, I decided to go to the Galapagos Islands and it was trip that I had made on my own, as my wife was institutionalized at that point in time. When I got to Quito, Ecuador, I knew of a bar that I wanted to visit, so went there, and got chatting to the bartender, and one
thing lead to another, and we discovered that, or he discovered that I was a graduate of OAC, University of Guelph, and a friend, who was living with him, was a graduate from the University of Guelph. I asked if she was there, and we chatted. It turned out she grew up just about two miles north of Keene, where I grew up, and so the three of us sat there and chatted, and before very long, two people walked into the bar that I knew were from the Ontario Agricultural College and had graduated in the middle 50’s, so the five of us chatted. Later on that evening, three other people walked through the door and one of them had a Sleeman Brewery T-shirt on, and so we quickly called them over, and it turned out that they were all graduates of the University of Guelph. The father of the one that wore the Sleeman T-shirt was a Professor at the University. So, all of a sudden, here we were, eight people sitting in Quito, all graduates of the University of Guelph, having a hell of a good time.
M Ken, you commented on some of your activities since retirement from Schneiders, and I know that you spent a year or more in the Alumni Affairs office at the University of Guelph, and helped to reorganize that to some extent. Would you like to comment on that?
K Thanks, Murray. The reason that I got involved with that, Dr. Rozanski called me one evening, asking me if I would become involved for a short period of time as interim Vice-President of Alumni Affairs and Development. I agreed, as Mort promised that it would be about three months. At the end of 23 months, I went to Mort one day and said I’ve had enough of you; do you think you’ve had enough of me? And so I decided to hang it up. I thoroughly enjoyed it, but I want to say to whoever it is that will listen to these tapes, that when you graduate from this place, you’ve got to maintain a relationship with it, and this I have done since the day I graduated. Yes, I have talked about being involved at Schneiders. We had a continuous parade of OAC undergraduates coming through the plant during my time there. I was involved in the last capital campaign as a regional chairman; I have been involved with the OAC Advisory Committee; I was involved in the celebration of the 100th anniversary; and yes, I am class agent for our class (OAC ’50). This all adds a dimension to one’s life and I think one is better for those kind of involvements, and I know that the University is the better for that kind of involvement. So, it’s a win-win all the way around.
M Ken, that was good advice for the present students, and future students. I’m sure that you have served on many Boards. Would you like to comment on the other activities you have been involved with?
K Thanks, Murray. As I said earlier, I served on the Board of J.M. Schneider from 1964 until I retired in ’87, but in addition, I was able to serve on the Boards of a number of other companies. These included- the B.F. Goodrich Company, Canada Trust, Dominion Life, and it of course was purchased by Manulife, and another long involvement I have had is with the Homewood Health Centre (here in Guelph). It is now the Homewood Corporation. I served as Chair of that Board
and also President of the Corporation. All of these involvements add a further dimension to one’s life, help one grow, also, you are able to bring talents to bear in another set of circumstances, and I think there’s mutual benefit that accrues to both the individual and the Corporations or the organizations that you were involved with. So, I would encourage young people to take a look at areas outside of their particular area of interest and see where it is they can serve their community, in a larger sense.
M Ken, we have covered your undergraduate days, your career, your extra-curricular activities, and your involvement in Boards and so on. I would like you to take a moment or two to comment on your personal family, please.
K Thanks, Murray. When, as I think I indicated, I was married while at College in 1948, and we were married until 1994, when she passed away as the result of complications from Alzheimers. I think I commented earlier that because of having to deal with that disease, and I use the word disease advisedly, and because of a comment that Helen made while she was institutionalized, and the nurses that were treating her made, that, I established the Murray Alzheimer Research and Education Project in the Health Studies department at the University of Waterloo.
Now family! We have two daughters, Susan and Leslie, both married. One lives in Stouffville and the other lives outside of Paris, Ontario. We have two grandchildren, and I am able to see them frequently and spoil them occasionally. They come and spend the occasional weekend. Oh, it’s nice to have grandchildren as they can come, you can spoil them, then you can send them home.
As I indicated, my first wife passed away, and Marilyn Robinson, also a graduate of the University, and I were married, it will be 4 going on 5 years now. Her first husband, a graduate of Guelph had passed away too. We think we are rather fortunate to be able to say that our first marriages were so successful that, we found someone we wanted to be married to the second time. So collectively, Marilyn and I have 7 children and 9 grandchildren. So we don’t have any votes that are decided on by a majority, but we seem to get along. So that’s what it is from my family standpoint, Murray.
Murray, we just chatted a little bit about family and then we were chatting about location where one lives. It so happens that Marilyn and I live almost equi-distant between Kitchener-Waterloo and Guelph, and I spent all of my working life in Kitchener-Waterloo, and Marilyn tended to relate to Guelph. We are so situated now that, we, as I say are equi-distant between those two, and we think that we are citizens of both Wellington County and Waterloo Region and pretty fortunate. Now, it so happens that we live in the middle of a sugar bush that, and if later on Murray gets around to talking to Marilyn, she will talk to you about making maple syrup and this type of thing. So I guess that’s enough, Murray, about where it is that we live as we are out in the country.
One other thing that I didn’t tell you is that I have a farming operation up in Bruce County where we have 134 bred heifers, which will be sold this year. We’ve just taken off a wonderful crop of beans and they should be combining the corn as we record this message. So that’s another thing that keeps me plugged into what it was I started some 50 odd years ago. So, they say about farming, he who mounts the tiger can’t get off, and I guess, I would categorize myself as that.
M Thank you Ken for your comment on your farming operation in Huron County.
M Bruce County, I’m sorry. I don’t listen very well, do I? It sounds to me like it has been a fairly big operation and I might just comment that I haven’t been involved very actively in agriculture, although being at the University of Guelph, I did keep my hand in agriculture. I haven’t been actively involved in farming or anything since about 1948, when I left the farm for the last time. For the students that listen to this tape, this has been an interview with Ken Murray, a graduate in 1950 from the Ontario Agricultural College, by Murray Brown, of OAC ’51.